Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips

Pair of lions with riders

Pair of lions with ridersA private residence discovered northwest of Timna’s South Gate became known as House Yafash. When Albright excavated the house, three of its rooms were still intact. He found a variety of utilitarian objects, including a burned comb, several containers, and a stone die, that shed light on the domestic life of the ancient Qatabans. Much to the excitement of the archaeologists and their local workers, a pair of bronze lions, each surmounted by a young boy, was also unearthed at the site. As Phillips remembered, “I could scarcely see Salim because of something he held in his arms, something that looked like a green lion with a creature riding on its back.”

Covered with a layer of ash from the fire that destroyed the city of Timna in the first century CE, the two bronze lions and their boyish riders were the most important discovery made by the expedition. The sophisticated modeling and treatment of the sculptures attest to the advanced bronze casting tradition in Arabia as well as to the familiarity of local artists with the technical and artistic language of the Greeks. The iconography of the pair might relate to the cult of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who was also a popular figure in ancient Arabia.

The lions and their riders were cast separately using the lost wax technique. Each one rests on a base with an inscription that reads, “Thuwayb and Aqrab dhu-Muhasni placed [these figures] at Yafash. Thuwayb and Aqrab of the Muhasni family decorated the house called Yafash.” The lions and their inscriptions play a critical role in establishing a chronology for the Qataban civilization and fixing its apogee in the first century CE.

Pair of lions with riders
Timna, 75 BCE–50 CE
LTS1992.6.87 and LTS1992.6.88

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